Paper Valley People

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The valley of the River Gade from Hemel Hempstead down to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire became one of the major paper manufacturing areas of England from 1770 onwards. In Hemel Hempstead four mills, may have been in the Domesday Book, were converted from their earlier uses to the manufacture of paper between 1755 and 1778. These mills were amongst the very first in the world to be mechanised.

In 1803 Frogmore Mill became the world’s first mechanised paper mill closely followed by Two Waters Mill (1805), Apsley Mill (1809) and Nash Mill (1811). The John Dickinson Company operated two of these mills and spurred on by their great success, built two more – Home Park (1825) and Croxley (1830) – as well as leasing Batchworth Mill.

The whole process of industrialisation was greatly aided by the opening of the Grand Junction Canal in the valley in 1798.

With paper in quantity being made in the area, naturally printing followed closely behind. John Peacock started printing in Watford in 1832 and the town rapidly expanded as a source of printed materials.

But the town’s reputation as a major international printing centre really began in the early twentieth century when a number of local firms started experimenting with colour printing. The Sun Engraving Co Ltd was established in 1918 and its rival, Odhams Ltd, established itself in Watford in 1936. The Sun and Odhams were two of the largest printing houses in Britain, producing millions of colour magazines each week using a pioneering technique of four-colour rotary gravure printing, for which Watford became world famous.

By the 1930s, one-in-thirteen of Watford’s population was involved in the industry, thus placing the town at the heart of the greatest concentration of printing in the world.

Henry Fourdrinier
Bryan Donkin
Lewis Evans

Lewis Evans

The second son of John Evans and a great-nephew of John Dickinson, Lewis had mathematical and scientific interests which ideally suited him to a career in the paper industry. He became a partner in 1881, then the General Manager in 1889 and later Chairman. During his period in the company the expansion and modernisation continued apace and included replacing the waterwheels with water turbines and introducing a railway link into the Croxley works. He was a flamboyant character having swum the Niagara river some 100 yards below the falls. He was often to be seen locally riding his silver plated penny-farthing bicycle. Later when he acquired a motor car it became stuck on the hump-back canal bridge close to Nash Mills. The opening up of agencies in South Africa was a particular interest of his. He recognised the danger of fire to paper mills and formed the first fire brigade for them. Soon acquiring a horse drawn steam pump for increased efficiency. He acted as captain of the brigade and there are pictures of him as the Fire Captain wearing a silver helmet.

Outside his business life he played a part in the life of the County acting as High Sheriff in 1914, he was also a staunch churchman assisting with the Diocesan finances. He had inherited his father’s love of collecting but his interests were in ancient mathematical, navigational and astronomical books and instruments. His collection, believed to be one of the finest in the world, was donated to Oxford University and can now be seen there in the Museum of the History of Science. Its presentation brought him an honorary doctorate.

Dame Joan Evans

Known as the author of the definitive work on John Dickinson, ‘The Endless Web’, Joan Evans has her own illustrious story. Born in 1893, she was the last child of John Evans, nephew of John Dickinson and his third wife, Maria Millington. Joan was therefore much younger than her half-siblings, was born and spent her childhood at Nash Mills House. She largely lived in the nursery with nanny on the top floor, the mill was her backyard, she witnessed the expansion of the paper industry started by ‘Grandfather John’, strengthened and expanded by her father. She witnessed the many illustrious visitors that came to dine Nash House. In her memoire ‘Prelude and Fugue’ Joan records an occasion where Captain Scott (of the Antarctic) had come to see her father, then Treasurer of the Royal Society and joined the family in teaching her to play bridge.

Joan had her own illustrious career and was amongst the first group of women to be awarded a degree. Her interests were in English and French Medieval art, especially early modern and medieval jewellery.  She authored a total of 19 books on her subject and her personal collection of jewellery was donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Joan lectured widely on her subject.

She was also the first female president of The Society of Antiquities, a position that both her father and her half-brother had held before her. She was awarded the society’s gold medal in 1973. At various times she was president of the Royal Archaeological Institute; fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Literature; DLitt, London and Oxford, honorary LLD, Edinburgh, honorary LittD, Cambridge and honorary FRIBA. She was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1976.  She died in 1977.

Marchant Warrell

The first paper-machine man.

Marchant Warrell began his career at around the age of 14 with an apprenticeship at Frogmore Mill in the late eighteenth century, learning to make paper by hand. After completing his apprenticeship he travelled across the country as a journeyman, finding work where he could, leading him to paper mills in Derbyshire and Cheddar, before returning to Hertfordshire to work at Two Waters Mill. It was here where the third, most refined paper machine was installed by the Fourdrinier brothers and Bryan Donkin in 1805, and in recognition of his talent, Marchant Warrell was the man chosen to run it.

Running the machine also required character and determination as many workers saw mechanisation as a threat to livelihoods, meaning defensive measures were also taken in the mill. Shutters were added to reinforce windows, and containers of toxic substances were placed on the roof in response to potential attackers, though thankfully these were not used.

The portrait was commissioned by the Fourdrinier brothers in 1810, and shows Warrell in a traditional papermaker’s hat, made from paper to absorb sweat in the hot atmosphere of the machine room.

Papermaking was often a family business and many of Warrell’s descendants remained in the trade or related industries over the next decades, as papermakers, printers, bookbinders, and engineers at paper mills.